My first impression of Tainan (台南) was nothing special. I got off the bus and walked to my hotel; the streets of Tainan looked little different from any other city in Taiwan. After taking a brief rest I set out to explore the city.
It wasn't long before I saw a parade going through the streets. There were statues of gods carried on palanquins and various colorful banners. Perhaps I only caught part of it because it quickly passed.
A little later I heard music coming from a small alleyway and went to see what it was all about. I was soon caught up in the middle of a stupendous parade. Gods of all shapes and sizes, people in amazing costumes, cymbals and horns to create plenty of noise. All would stop briefly to pay respects to the god in the small local temple before disappearing down the alley.
As I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Tainan I encountered this parade several times. It was accompanied by a cacophony of activity wherever it went, particularly the fireworks that were set off!
When I wasn't observing the parade I was visiting some amazing temples filled with exquisite artwork and rich in history. Many of the temples have more than 300 years of history.
The next day, completely by chance, I came across another amazing temple ritual at the Fengshen Temple (風神寺). After a huge amount of fireworks were set off and several statues of gods were brought into the temple two men took centre stage. Brandishing swords and other weapons they became possessed by the gods. One man cut his tongue and performed a strange dance. Another man had a ball studded with nails in his mouth.
A man explained to me in English that it was the birthday of the god in the temple. People from temples all around Taiwan come to pay respect to the god. He also told me that 300 years ago this temple was at the water's edge and it was a place were traders came from China. A stone gate near the temple was called the Old Government Reception Archway (接官亭).
There was so much to discover in Tainan that three days there was barely enough. On the second day I also visited Anping (安平). The most famous place there is the Anping Fort (安平古堡), also known as Fort Zeelandia. This was built by the Dutch in the early 17th Century. The fort was originally on an island (see the picture), but the local landscape has changed markedly since then. Although its position close to the water still allows one to appreciate its links to Taiwan's maritime history. Anping is also home to more temples and old buildings.
Another thing I liked about the city was the number of attractive parks. The photo is of the Chenggong Lake in the grounds of Cheng Kung University (成功大學). There are many large and beautiful banyan trees. These are home to many squirrels.
On my final day in Tainan I tried to visit a few of the places that I had earlier missed. There were still a few things I didn't see, but that's a good excuse to go back again.
P.S. I have a huge amount of photos to sort through and I will upload many of them to my photo gallery. In the meantime have a look at my photos tagged Tainan at flickr.